Thursday, April 16, 2009

I left the marvels of Italy yesterday (above, the Duomo of Orvieto.)
A train is speeding me through the forests of Central Sweden for a few days visit to my mother and MNL before spending next week in Stockholm researching possibilities for a spine operation for Keita.
I look out of the train window at the sober and cool Swedish countryside. This is the soil I sprung from. How and through what tortuous and mysterious paths did I arrive in Djenne? This is only a different version of the same question I am asked every day by passing tourists at the hotel. Today I myself wonder- I am not sure I know the answer.
A gentle mood of melancholia settles in, engendering contemplations of vanitas and tempus fugit and I am reminded of a favourite passage in W.G. Seibold's Rings of Saturn where he wrote about great families which do no even outlast the life of an oak tree.
The train just passed the little town of Sater, where I went to primary school. The red houses with their white gables stand there, looking exactly like they always did even to my childish eyes; bearing their testimony to an apparently stable and unchanging world. Lives come and go and bodies occupy the houses for a time. The facades remain aloof, occupying a different form of physical existence. And I am speeding past, much changed.
But in Djenne stands my hotel, another, more delicate type of edifice built of mud and as fragile and prone to decay as a human body. Will it outlast me?
Delicate, yet already something of a landmark: Djenne Djenno is beginning to take on the shape of a small fortress, its turrets and mud facades blending into the Sahel landscape with an ease which belies its recent construction- it occupies its space like an ancient birthright, as if it had always stood there. It already has more importance perhaps than I who simply gave birth to it.

There are extravagant, unreasonable plans for the hotel. It will rival the mosque as a Djenne tourist attraction.
This May the British Library will tell me if we have the grant for the Djenne manuscript project.
The dice have all been thrown. Djenne is my future, with or without friends- may God grant that Keita may be part of it too.


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